Sunday, December 09, 2007

Family Records Work Appreciated

Tuscaloosa News - December 5, 2007

Thanks to the work of volunteers, tens of thousands of unbound Tuscaloosa County records, some dating back as far as 1880, have been preserved for future generations on microfilm.

The documents, most of them documenting marriages and divorces, will be a trove to family history researchers. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons -funded the project.

For the past three years, volunteers have dug out the records, some of which have become brittle. They spent some 2,700 hours preparing an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 unbound records for microfilming.

An index will be placed in the Alabama Department of Archives and History Web site. Copies of the film will be available at the Tuscaloosa County Public Library and at the courthouse.

Another copy will be kept at the Salt Lake City headquarters of the Genealogical Society of Utah, the arm of the church that is collecting records nationwide.

It's a fascinating project, though controversial at times. Mormons believe the dead can be baptized into their religion after their passing. Members of the church trace their family trees to learn the names of ancestors who died without learning about the restored Mormon Gospel so that these deceased relatives may be baptized by proxy.

According to a PBS report, some 2.4 million rolls of microfilm containing 2 billion names have been traced so far. Records are locked behind a 14-ton door in a mountain vault designed to survive a nuclear attack.

In the mid-1990s, there was controversy when it was learned that names of some 380,000 Jewish Holocaust victims had been submitted for posthumous baptism. In 1995, the church agreed to remove the names from its archives.

The local project is unlikely to generate much controversy. Instead, most local history and family researchers are likely to feel they owe the Mormons and the volunteers a debt of gratitude for work that will remain valuable far into the future.

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